NOTE: The interview was conducted by Steven Rosen on the eve of Ozzfest 2006 tour.
has arrived early for rehearsal. The band, Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society
, is beginning a week's worth of practice for the upcoming Ozzfest tour. The gear is being loaded in and Craig's new custom Pearl set is being assembled. For the next several days the band will knock the tangles out of the eight songs they'll be performing at the mammoth festival. For the most part, everybody here knows the music. There is some fine tuning involved but as much as anything it's a chance for the band to once again reunite and light the fuses. The drummer talks about the rehearsal process and what it feels like to play drums in one of the world's great rock bands.
Ultimate Guitar: How do you prepare for the actual rehearsal? You have a new drum kit and you're about to go on Ozzfest, how do get yourself ready to play for preproduction?
Well, kind of a little bit of everything. There's a combination of things going on. Usually it starts, like, maybe with Zakk it's usually a couple weeks before we leave. We kind of have a mock idea of what we're gonna play because we just discuss it over the phone and kind of have an idea of what direction we're gonna go. Are we gonna play some old songs? Are we gonna play sort of the ones that we know people know? It just starts with that discussion. And of course, I've been working out, trying to take care of myself all along. So that's really important. But when it comes down to the last couple weeks and sort of when we're getting close to rehearsals, I'm making sure that I don't leave anything out. Make sure that I have the gear that I need. That's usually I'm finding out once I get here, you know, with having a kit shipped and make sure all the hardware's straight, make sure I have all the pedals and everything else. I usually find once we get here and sort of get into it, there's really no other way of telling till I do. Once we get here and we start getting set up, it doesn't take us long. I mean, I've been with Zakk for over six years, six-and-a-half years or whatever. It's just gotten easier as we go to sort of get in the groove, get here, get everything set up, and start playing. It's a lot of fun. I always look forward to rehearsals because I know that once we get into it, we'll kind of play the songs that we've put on a set list, but then we sort of discuss, "All right, is there anything else we're maybe leaving out. Maybe let's try this song or whatever.
" And a lot of times, we end up just kind of screwing off, too, once we run the set a couple of times. Zakk maybe starts playing a riff from one of the other songs, and before we know it, we're playing that song. And then we're saying, "Man, that would be really cool to do that one!
" It's a lot of fun. I always look forward to rehearsals and just kind of getting in here and just the vibe of everything.
So it's pretty loose?
Yeah, it is, man. We're not the Marines here. This is no military operation, where everyone's so stiff or anything like that. We know what we have and we've been doing it long enough that we know we're gonna have a good time when we get together.
So when you come in, you already know the songs?
Yeah. That's one thing I've always felt like I had a pretty good edge on. I always felt like at least I've got a good ear and a good memory for music. When I joined this band and I was on that first tour in 2000, it was basically like trial by fire. I got thrown into it. It was either that or Zakk was gonna have to find somebody and maybe end the tour. And I was right there and he asked me if I would do it. No disrespect to anyone, but I didn't really know the stuff and Black Label was just two records in. That was the beginning of their second record tour, too. So it was like 'here's the records, here's the set list - can you learn this stuff?
' I had no practice, no nothing. I had one sound check before the first show. And I learned about 12 or 14 songs just by listening and taking notes. I had to jump in there and I played every single song. I don't really even know what it was like. I mean, I was well received. I know that and Zakk wanted to keep me around, so I guess I was doing something right. So yeah, it was definitely something that no one can take away from me. Because from time to time you get the, "Well, you know, Zakk's an amazing guitar player. He could have anybody he wants.
" This, that, and the other. Well, sure he could. So could anyone, you know what I mean? There's a reason why Zakk and I play together and Nick's in the band and JD's in the band. It's because we work well together. It's a friendship first. Above and beyond anything else, we're friends. We shoot the shit. We talk all the time. Usually, we're not talking about music. We're usually talking about the Saints or the Giants or something.
So obviously that is a part of making a band work, liking the people you play with?
|"Above and beyond anything else, we're friends."|
Absolutely. I mean, that's one thing. Respect as individuals. You hear all the horror stories, whether it's a musician or a boss, the worst situation to get in when you're working with anybody is if you're not happy. Because how do you go to work every single day when you're miserable and you can't look the person you're working with in the face? That's one thing that's so great about this band, is we have such a genuine good time with each other. And we give each other each other's space and all that stuff, too, because everybody needs that. We used to roll everybody on one bus and stuff like that. Nowadays we go to two buses and it helps out to give each other that space and things like that. But yeah, it's definitely a testament to our personalities being able to get along. And not just an average level, but an above average level. It's gonna make us go even that much further.
Since you've been with Zakk for so long, is there any unwritten routine to rehearsing?
It's so much more about enjoying it and not being pretentious about things. Zakk has one thing, he's never ever, not once ever sat and told me, "Well, what about playing this? Or what about playing that?
" He says absolutely nothing. He lets me be me and that's one of the main things that I love about the guy. It's such a cool thing to be able to be in that kind of position because it takes the pressure completely off of you. And it makes you want to be better. It makes you want to work hard because it's very satisfying to know that everybody around you is having a good time and they like what you're doing. And all you want to do is keep reveling in that. The one thing that we always do as a band, once we start firing everything up, we'll sort of kick around some stuff. And then a lot of times we'll go like half-volume and just play through the songs with the arrangements. And just kind of play at a low volume so that we're not absolutely killing ourselves right off the bat. Sort of work your way into it. A lot of times I'll end up being louder than everybody else, so it sort of starts to raise as we're going. The volumes swells up. I just love it so much, man. I love the guys and I love being a part of this thing. All I want do is just keep putting into and putting into it. I'm so psyched about our new record that I told Zakk last night I was hanging myself if we don't sell a million records on this one. Yeah, I'm really, really psyched about it. The mix was really, really good. Rusty did an amazing job on it. When I do the records, I come in, we write everything on the fly, on the spot, record it, and I basically go home. So I'm subject to living with whatever the final thing is gonna be. I'm a pretty easygoing guy and open, very open-minded about stuff. So I'm not one of those analytical guys that's gonna sit there and analyze every drum hit and where it is in the mix and this and that. Because I'm a huge fans of singers and songwriters more than I am drummers. I'm into a beautiful song more than I am into a pattern that some guy plays. As much as I love Bozzio and everybody, all the other great players before me, it's just as important to me the bands that they were involved with and the other guys. I love guitar players, you know.
You said that what you do with Zakk takes on a real organic feel. With Zakk, sometimes you're the only other musician on there because he's playing bass, keyboards, and vocals.
Yeah, the first two that I had done with him, besides that live record that we had done - yeah, 1919 and Hellride, Zakk had done all the bass and everything. Zakk's great on bass, but he's mainly a songwriter and a guitar player and a singer. J.D. had played on some stuff on Hangover, and obviously he and Zakk go way back. It's a comfortable relationship with those guys. And James LoMenzo
had played on stuff in the past, too. And it got to a point where I was going, "Wow, I really enjoy hearing a bass player, too, because they're very special as well.
" The best of them, they bring to the table, you know, at their craft and what they do. You know, it's all important. Usually the way we track is me and Zakk together. When we did Hangover Music, it was mellow stuff and things like that. So James had played along in the studio and stuff like that. But for the most part, it's always been like me and Zakk will do the first track, make sure the drums are cool, and then go from there. So yeah, it's a lot of fun in the studio. I love playing with Zakk. He's so much fun in the studio. There's no pretension, none of that stuff. And it's all good, whether we use a song or not. He may go get on the piano at the beginning of a session when we're starting to write a record for rock n' roll. Shit, we did the whole Mafia record, all the tracking that I had done when he was playing along with me he played on an SG bass. I forget exactly how he ran it, but there was just a whole shit-load of distortion on it and he played it like a guitar and wrote riffs that way. It's interesting because when he came back with the guitars, he had such a good riff bass of where we were going with the songs that it was already there.
At rehearsal what problems might arise that need to get fixed?
Usually if there's anything with me, it's hopefully I don't bust a knuckle wide open or something like that because maybe I haven't played for a couple weeks or whatever it may be. But most of the time if there's any kind of problems, it's usually gear. I might have to sort of rig something. Or maybe something I've set up is just not working right. It's those sort of things that are just as important to kind of iron out because you don't need that when you're playing in front of 20,000 people. That's the last thing you want.
I saw that you and Chris (Craig's drum tech) were hacking and sawing.
|"I'm so psyched about our new record that I told Zakk I was hanging myself if we don't sell a million records on it."|
Those things like that, like when you buy a new high hat stand, it comes with the legs and everything like that. And Tony Moon is an amazing, amazing guy who has worked with a lot of different guys. Great drum tech. He had worked for me a couple years ago on Ozzfest and took care of me then. He had sawed off the legs to a high hat stand it was brilliant for a second kick drum. To have the two kicks and not to have that cumbersome stuff in the way. Because every tiny little inch or half an inch makes a big difference. It's like a guitar player picking up a guitar and action is an inch of the neck when they like it sixteenth of an inch of the neck. So those little things you want to dial in during rehearsals and get comfortable in that sense. And spike the kit. For those that don't know, that's basically setting the kit up on the carpet that you're gonna have on your riser, if you're using carpet. Tape everything and mark it and make sure to give it a chance to have the same everyday so he's not guessing. Some guys will use those grated steel risers, you know, with fans or lights or whatever underneath. They're really cool, but it kind of really limits you because everything has to be bolted. And there's absolutely no playing if you want to move a cymbal stand one day because it may be bugging me. It's not going anywhere. I mean, I have to mess with the boom, and then it becomes cumbersome with that. So I'm kind of old school. This is the first year I'm going to be using any ear monitors. You get fitted for it. They fit your ears and all your monitor mix goes in your headset. And I've always used just speaker cabinets behind me. Make sure I have a big box and lots of low end. You know, it's gonna be interesting because I haven't tried them yet to see if I even like them.
It could be pretty strange for a drummer since the sound could take longer to travel to the headset.
That's what I'm kind of concerned about. I don't know if I'm gonna like it because I like to be able to feel that underneath my butt in the back. Man, to feel that low end and when I kick the kick drums, you're not only hearing things, you're really feeling it in your chest. And that's what I want the people to be able to feel that as well. If I'm not feeling it, how can they feel it?
In a rehearsal, are you now being fed the mix that you will hear on the Ozzfest stage?
In rehearsals, I like to get pretty much close. I like it to kind of be the same, if possible. In the rehearsal places here and stuff, they have pretty good monitors set up. So you can kind of get close and get in the element of where you're gonna be in a couple of weeks when you're actually playing in front of everybody. Just because it's practice and rehearsal, that doesn't mean I want to necessarily leave everything out and get up there with nothing. I like to hear all the guitars. I'm one of those guys that I like to hear an even mix of everybody. It usually includes everybody's vocals as well. I want to hear the whole band. Not just, "Oh, I just need to hear Zakk's guitar and forget everybody else.
" I like a good nice mix of everyone.
Is there an unspoken friendly rivalry with the other bands playing on Ozzfest?
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I'd be lying if I said that wasn't true. And I think anyone that does say that is completely full of crap. Because it's human nature to want to bring your best and to want to be the best. Without that, I might as well just go get a day job and stay home. I'm an aggressive, emotional kind of player and stuff like that. I really sort of lose myself in the whole thing, and that's the beauty of it. Music allows you to do that. Yeah, I think it's always prevalent. That's at the top of the list, to want Black Label to be huge and have everybody turned on to this thing and become part of it and enjoy it. Yeah, absolutely. I've always had that attitude. And it's not against anything in particular. It's not against anything. It's more so just a sense that you want everybody to take notice and you want them to feel what you feel about it. It's kind of like you said, it's an unwritten sort of thing. You know, we don't get together and high-five them before the show and go, "All right, dude. Everybody else sucks and we're the best!
" It's just let's go kick everybody's ass. And plenty of hugs and kisses and good vibes between all of us before we hit it.
As the rehearsal goes on and the music sounds better, does that get pumped into you even more?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that's why I look forward to rehearsals so much because you're sort of setting up that. You're setting up that whole feeling. You're building it and you keep building it. You get the vibe going amongst everybody and everybody gets real fired up. Yeah, it's a lot of fun. So I always look forward to this.
This is the exact set you'll be playing?
Yeah, that's the one.
And in rehearsal will you be using the exact gear that you're using for Ozzfest?
Yeah. The deal that I have now, I have a custom set that's gonna be built. I don't want to use the same kit every tour. It looks the same. We always want have a little bit something different going. So for this tour, I've decided to go with this one. With a new kit and all new hardware, you've got to get it all set up and to dial everything in. On my other kit, it's more ready to go, set up for me. With everything brand new, you have to bust it out. So for me, it has to be done in rehearsals. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to set it up and figure it out a few hours before a big show.
Can you talk a little bit about the set itself?
|"I had to work my butt off my whole life to get where I'm at now."|
I grew up playing a four-piece kit and playing a smaller kit, and was really into the idea of being as good as I can on a minimal amount of drums and stuff like that. And of being more of a foundation kind of player. I mean, I had some flair and I get emotionally involved in it. People might say I hit too hard sometimes or whatever, but that's part of the emotion of it. With this kit, I love maple. I love the sound of maple drums. They also have a nice low end but plenty of mid-range and stuff like that. I've always felt comfortable using them. So with this kit I said, "Let's go maple.
" It's like a four-ply maple kit with a black lacquer. Black goes with everything. I really wanted gold hardware on this but it wasn't available on short notice. So we went through the chrome hardware. Essentially, it's pretty much a simple setup. I don't have any sort of triggers or any kind of drum brain going on or any kind of pads. Black Label is very much a rock n' roll band, in the truest sense of the word. We're pretty organic, physically where the drums are, what I use. There's no special stuff going on. There's not a whole lot of trickery.
Can you talk about the sizes?
Yeah, I'll probably be using a different snare drum than what I have up there. I use a Keplinger steel snare. That's a 7", 7 x 14. On the toms, it's 13, a 14 rack, and 16 and 18 on the floor. Two 24" kicks. I like a low-end of the 24. It's kind of the maximum I'll go because I still need the attack as well. So I don't use anything too big and boomy. And 22 I used for years and that's always a good, standard size. So I wanted a little bit more low end so I went with the 24s.
You said you just changed to double bass?
Yeah. I used to use the double pedal for a while on a single kick. And it got to a point, a lot of them, they develop a lot of play in the linkage after a while. And it's just kind of funny to kick something that's not there. You know, I'm kicking on the left side, but the beater's on the right kick drum. I just figured, "Man, that's it. I'm going with the real deal - two kicks." To me, it's a whole lot easier and makes more sense to play that way. So I've never looked back since I decided to make that switch.
Could you play this music with one?
Uh-hum. Yeah, I would be changing up some of the patterns I may do with double bass. Although Black Label, we don't do a whole lot of double bass stuff where it might be more of a metal sort of thing. Or even like double-bass fusion stuff, I know a lot of guys that are great players that do. We're just more of a meat and potatoes kind of band when it comes down to it. I've always been into that sort of drumming, John Bonham, Ian Paice. You know, guys in the sixties and seventies, Mitch Mitchell, rock n' roll drummers. Those are the guys I grew up learning how to play their songs. So it's always been instilled in me that that's me.
Do you use the same kit live?
Yeah. The only difference is on Mafia I used the double pedal and used one kick drum for most of the recording on Mafia. And on the new one instead I used two kick drums. It's something that I wanted to do this time around to create some sort of difference in the two and some separation. But I mean, if you listen to the music, most of our songs there's not a whole lot of double bass or anything going on. If anything, it's more of a lick or something I'll throw in with two kick drums. It's more of laying the bricks down and building a house that way.
You're one of the first ones to hear the music besides Zakk. In rehearsals, along with Zakk, you probably know the music as well as anybody. Is that correct?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of it obviously comes from recording it and listening so many times in the studio. It just becomes instilled in me. There's one thing I've always felt I had a good advantage on. It was being able to kind of have the good sense about music and a good ear for things and a nice little memory bank. You kind of need to be refreshed and that gets worked out in rehearsals. But I always feel like, it's not like I had to sit down the last month and just listen to these songs over and over and over again. Because I also like to bring a nice air of spontaneity everyday when I play. I'll always throw something in a song that maybe I've never done before and won't do the next time. The song's there and I'm not exactly a drummer that's gonna go crazy, but I also like to just throw a little?It's just sort of one of those things that you don't really know, can't put a finger on or explain, but just happens. That's the beauty of it really.
And Zakk during a rehearsal is open to that?
Absolutely. Absolutely. As long as I'm not going crazy and playing over the song. It's usually something that's completely welcomed. Because he does it. He's a guitar player and he'll throw in stuff. Otherwise, I can just press play and play the CD. Yeah, it's fun. I really get a kick out of it and I'm blessed to be able to do this. By the same token, we've all worked really hard. I had to work my butt off my whole life to get where I'm at now. It's only gonna get better.
Having to work hard, to work at understanding music, and to have the ability to be spontaneous - all these things are needed to perform at this level? Knowing when to let loose and knowing when to focus?
|"I love playing with Zakk. He's so much fun in the studio."|
Exactly. Knowing when to just sort of lay back and play, and knowing when it's the right time to maybe unleash a little extra fury involved. But yeah, I think for younger guys, younger people, getting into music and playing with other people, it's just as important to understand what everyone else is doing. For a drummer to sit on six-stroke rolls between two kick drums, and you know, those are all great things and they're gonna improve you. But the biggest thing to me is lending yourself to everybody else and being a team player and not just worrying about you all the time. It's just hugely important.
The truth is, I think you could have been half the drummer and you still would have gotten this gig. The guy loves you.
There's a true love involved. Absolutely.
I think a lot of people overlook it. You see these guys on the covers of a lot of these magazines. They've got chops up the ying-yang. What does it take to be in a band like this?
At least for me, that's what's the beauty of being in a rock n' roll band is being in a rock n' roll band with guys that are irreplaceable. Those are intangibles that everyone brings to the table and no one can take it away from me. The love that we have for each other, I mean, that is huge. That is huge. I mean, what would happen if we get in here and no one likes each other? Or if you have a problem with this, that, or the other, it has it's way of working into the music or relationships, everything else in between. I'll go hang sheet rock before I do that. And I'm glad that that's always been my interest, is being a team player and being involved in a situation that is gonna be conducive to writing great music, not just being a great drummer at all.
2006 Steven Rosen